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Go Memphis

October 2003


Red Priest

Dorian DOR 90317

How much help does Vivaldi require? Certainly The Four Seasons, unusual for an almost universally familiar work, remains remarkably fresh with each hearing. Yet Red Priest, the notorious British quartet of wags and mischief-makers, the Spike Joneses of the Baroque - one of their previous albums is Nightmare in Venice - attempt here to re-energize the group of programmatic concerti. Red Priest derives its name from Vivaldi's nickname; his red hair was widely noted.

Starting the "Spring" section with more animal noises than Vivaldi anticipated - it's amazing how a recorder and violin can sound like chickens, roosters, ducks and owls - Red Priest introduces radical rhythmic emphases, at one point evolving into a Viennese waltz. A few bars of God Save the Queen pop up at the end of the first section of "Autumn" (which begins with a Scottish reel), while the rhythm behind the Largo of "Winter" is a good rendition of a tango crossed with a Motown ballad.

But Red Priest - Piers Adams, Julia Bishop, Angela East and Howard Beach - consists of serious musicians who perform with great skill. The most radical innovation is in transcribing The Four Seasons for four performers who compensate for the thinner sound with immense energy. Indeed, the work's most serious sections - the summer and winter storms and the hunt in autumn - are performed with ferocious commitment and speed.

The album includes Arcangelo Corelli's "Christmas" Concerto (Grosso Concerto in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8) played with a similar combination of skepticism and devotion but altogether more traditionally. Parts of it are quite lovely, other parts completely exciting.

This is an album that rises above its qualities of novelty.

Fredric Koeppel

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